The New Definition of Presenteeism

Car keys


I used to work in a traditional office setting in a large office building.  It was your standard cubicle farm.  Directors and Vice Presidents had their offices at the end of a series of office cubes where their employees worked.  The boss only had to step outside her office door to see the tops of the heads of employees as they worked behind their computer monitors.  Everyone was visible, and everyone was working.  At least, that’s what management thought.

  One of my coworkers liked to carry around two sets of car keys.  Why?  He would throw one set of keys on top of his desk next to his keyboard and then take off for an extended two hour lunch in the middle of the afternoon.  When people came around to look for him, they would see the car keys on top of his desk and immediately assume he was still in the office building somewhere, most likely in a meeting in one of the numerous conference rooms.

The moral of the story is obvious: just because employees are co-located in an office together doesn’t necessarily mean they’re productive.      

Traditionally, presenteeism has referred to employees that attend work while sick.  However, in today’s workplace many are realizing that presenteeism isn’t about ailing workers in the office, it includes workers that are present but not producing any work. 

Measuring the cost of unproductive workers is often difficult.  Studies conducted on the traditional definition of presenteeism have found that the average cost per worker in the United States is about $255 annually.  However, the cost of present but unproductive workers is far higher.  According to a survey by Proudfoot Consulting a few years ago, almost 29 percent of company time in the US is unproductive.  The estimated cost of poor productivity is a whopping $600 billion and is the equivalent of 33.5 days per worker annually. 

Obviously, the huge loss of productivity is not due to employees running around with a couple sets of car keys in their pockets and taking two hour lunch breaks.  However, it does point out that not all the time people spend in the office place is value added work.  Telework can’t fix all the productivity problems within an organization but it can have a positive impact.  Effective managers of teleworkers know that they can’t manage through attendance.  They have to develop tangible managers of success.  When this is done, employees have to deliver results and an employee’s time is time spent working.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: